When Phil Spector walked into the House of Blues in February 2003, club hostess Lana Clarkson saw a slight, older man sporting a wild crown of pale hair — not the sort of guy a beauty normally gives a second look.
But Clarkson had reason to do just that and more. She was told that Spector, a famed 1960s record producer, was a VIP to be treated “like gold.”
And so, as the night waned, she accompanied Spector to his mansion. Hours later, she was dead.
Clarkson, an actress past her screen sexpot prime at 40, may have succumbed to the Hollywood game that induces many women to latch onto anyone who might help launch or reignite their careers — perhaps even music executives with their glory days behind them.
“What normal person, who’s not looking for something, goes with Phil Spector or anyone else at 5 in the morning?” longtime Hollywood manager Bernie Brillstein said.
“It’s the promise that ‘I finally hit the jackpot. He’s going to help me,’ ” Brillstein suggested.
That’s the way of the world, at least in a high-stakes, competitive industry.
“Actresses are a dime a dozen, pretty ones,” said Lila Selik, a casting director with 30 years in the business. “People set themselves up to be exploited. They’re willing to do anything to get a part, sacrifice anything.”
Spector, 67, is charged with murder; he claims Clarkson committed suicide.
This week, the case’s lead investigator testified at Spector’s trial that the scene at Spector’s house carried “sexual overtones.” Her body was found slumped in a chair, her short black dress drenched with blood.
“Miss Clarkson, the way she was dressed, the person that she was, the person that the defendant was — all those facts in my mind played into a sexually motivated murder,” said sheriff’s homicide Detective Mark Lillienfeld.
Four women testified that at different times over the years Spector was armed and threatened violence or sexual assault against them. Only one said she reported her encounter to authorities, who didn’t follow up. No charges were brought.
Laura Segura, an actress and model who moved from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles a few years ago, retained a female agent after growing wary of men in the industry.
“I wasn’t naive coming out here, but I wasn’t ready for how many people would blatantly or underhandedly try to take advantage of you,” she said. “That was a big shocker.”
Every meeting with a prospective representative ended up being “‘Let’s go to lunch or dinner,”’ Segura said. Her YouTube video blog includes an emotional account of one would-be manager who made a sexually graphic suggestion. She broke off communication.
“It’s so rampant that almost every man that makes me any kind of promise or builds up my ego ... I think, ‘What’s he really after?”’ Segura said.
It’s something that’s gone on for decades.
In his 1993 autobiography, actor Tony Curtis recounted an early 1950s meeting with studio boss Harry Cohn at Columbia that was disrupted by “a magnificent young woman in a beautiful summer silk dress” who demanded a private meeting with Cohn and was refused.
“Harry, I can’t go on this way,” she said, nervously. “You promised to take care of me, put me in a movie ... You have to do something, or I’m going to have to call your wife.”
Cohn picked up the phone, dialed and held it out to the woman, Curtis wrote. “Tell her yourself,” the mogul said.
Much has changed
Brillstein contends much has changed since the 1950s. For example, “fixers” like MGM’s Eddie Mannix, who quietly quashed negative studio press, don’t exist.
Now, entertainment-oriented magazines, tabloids and Web sites feast on every marketable tidbit, Brillstein said, whether it’s about a troubled young star like Lindsay Lohan or an executive in legal straits like former HBO CEO Chris Albrecht, who pleaded no contest to battery and paid a fine after attacking his girlfriend last month in a Las Vegas parking lot.
After Albrecht’s arrest, it was reported HBO had paid a settlement in 1991 of at least $400,000 to a subordinate and ex-lover of Albrecht’s after she accused him of shoving and choking her.
Brillstein concedes that aspiring performers must be mindful of what they’re getting into.
“There’s not a young girl that comes into this office that we don’t say, ‘Do whatever you want, but this is not a business for the soft-minded,”’ he said.
What places youngsters in jeopardy when they move to Hollywood is the same thing that prompted them to take the plunge in the first place, said Dorian Traube of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work.
“It’s that kind of adolescent, throw-caution-to-the wind” attitude, said Traube, who focuses on adolescent development and risk-taking.
It can be risky to complain about or cross someone with clout. After music industry photographer Stephanie Jennings stood Spector up for a date, he left an angry threat on her answering machine.
The message was played for jurors.
“I’ll (expletive) put you out of business,” Spector told her. “I’m gonna try real hard to do so and I guarantee you I will. You know who this is. Trust me, I’m good at what I do.”